Don’t leap to conclusions: Panetta

Robert Burns

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta cautioned Wednesday against reaching early conclusions about the veracity of allegations against the top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, who is under investigation for what Pentagon officials have said may be "inappropriate" correspondence with Jill Kelley.

At a news conference in Perth, Panetta sought to tamp down a wave of speculation about the nature of Allen's actions, which have added a new dimension to the David Petraeus matter. "No one should leap to any conclusions here," Panetta said in his first public comments on the matter when a reporter asked what Allen might have done wrong. Panetta declined to characterise Allen's actions in any way.

Panetta said he supports Allen, who has been in command in Kabul since July 2011. He took over that summer for Petraeus, who had retired from the Army to head the CIA.

"He certainly has my continued confidence to lead our forces and to continue the fight," Panetta said. The Pentagon chief declined to explain the nature of General Allen's correspondence with Kelley.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who appeared with Panetta and their Australian counterparts at Wednesday's news conference, declined to comment on the Allen case except to suggest it has not harmed the war effort. She said US officials have discussed the matter with allied officials.

"There has been a lot of conversation, as you might expect, but no concern whatsoever being expressed to us because the mission has been set forth and it's being carried out," Clinton said.

Panetta announced on Tuesday while flying to Australia that he had ordered the Defence Department's inspector general to investigate Allen based on material referred to the Pentagon on Sunday by the FBI. Pentagon officials said the material included at least 20,000 pages of Allen correspondence.

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